Jewish, Catholic scholars debate long-standing issue; Holocaust is at heart of dialogue at St. Mary's


Relations between Roman Catholics and Jews -- a difficult and often ugly history of 2,000 years that began to heal after the Second Vatican Council -- got a boost in Baltimore last night from prominent priests and rabbis even as lingering conflicts were acknowledged.

The modern relationship, based on a 1965 Vatican edict repudiating the belief that Jews are collectively guilty for killing Jesus of Nazareth, was affirmed last night at St. Mary's Seminary as "one of the greatest revolutions in human history." But both sides acknowledged they have a long way to go.

Under the title "The Unfinished Agenda," papers were presented by the Vatican liaison to the Jewish world and the director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee. Cardinal William H. Keeler, head of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, presided.

The lecture followed two days of local talks by Jewish and Catholic leaders on how to teach the Holocaust in religious schools. The Holocaust, particularly the extent to which Pope Pius XII did or did not act to save Jewish lives during the Nazi terror, was again at the heart of the dialogue.

In a March 1998 document called "We Remember," the Vatican expressed deep regret for the "errors and failures" of Catholics during the Holocaust but defended the role of Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of staying silent in the face of the deportation of Jews and their murders in Nazi death camps.

In his statement, copies of which were released to the public, Rabbi A. James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee said: "I personally regret that 'We Remember' includes the defense of Pius XII because it further complicates an already controversial document. it is vital that competent Catholic and Jewish scholars have full access to pertinent records. Only in that way can this difficult question be satisfactorily resolved."

The Catholic view, prepared by Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, president of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, was read by Monsignor John Radano of Rome.

Wrote Cassidy: "Recent Jewish attempts to influence decisions concerning the internal life of the Catholic Church are strongly resented. Persons very dear to the Catholic faithful are condemned without proof."

Keeler, who hopes that a possible visit to Jerusalem next year by Pope John Paul II would help bridge the gulfs, said it will take the combined efforts of Jewish and Catholic scholars examining all available records to get an accurate picture of Catholic responsibility during the Holocaust.

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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